Dublin screening of anti-vaccine film sparks protests

Autism rights advocate calls for legislation to prevent airing of unsound anti-vaccine data

Vaxxed, which was released last year, has been banned by many cinemas over its linking of the MMR vaccine (measles, mumps and rubella) to autism. Photograph: Getty Images

Vaxxed, which was released last year, has been banned by many cinemas over its linking of the MMR vaccine (measles, mumps and rubella) to autism. Photograph: Getty Images

 

An autism rights advocate has called on the Minister for Health to introduce legislation to end the scaremongering of parents not to vaccinate their children following the screening of a controversial anti-vaccine documentary in Dublin.

Fiona Petit O’Leary, who has Asperger’s , was joined by a small group of protesters, most of whom have autism, outside the Tivoli Theatre on Francis Street in Dublin 8 on Friday to demonstrate against the screening of Vaxxed.

The film, which was released last year, has been banned by many cinemas over its linking of the MMR vaccine (measles, mumps and rubella) to autism and alleged governmental cover-ups of this link.

Ms O’Leary, who is the founder of the Autistic Rights Together organisation, said the group had bought tickets for the Friday screening of the film but were refused entry after being identified as pro-vaccination campaigners. Gardaí were called to the scene but no arrests were made.

“This isn’t about MMR anymore, they’re against every type of vaccine,” said Ms O’Leary, adding that the Vaxxed team were “promoting dangerous and unregulated products” and “brain-washing” parents. “This is about saving children and stopping the exploitation of autistic people. We need to prevent children from dying from these deadly diseases.”

Earlier this year the Vaxxed team described as “deplorable” a decision by some European cinema owners to oppose screenings of the documentary.

Film festival

The film, which was pulled from the Tribecca Film Festival last year following opposition from scientists, autism experts, vaccine advocacy groups and film-makers, investigates charges made by a whistleblower at the American Centers for Disease Control and Prevention who claimed the agency had manipulated data on a study which showed a link between the MMR vaccine and autism.

The claims were made by disgraced former doctor Andrew Wakefield who was struck off the medical register in 2010 for offences relating to dishonesty and failing to act in the best interests of vulnerable children.

The team have billed the documentary as “the film they don’t want you to see” as part of their tour around Europe and the United States.

It is understood the Vaxxed team are now in Cork promoting the film.

Dr Robert O’Connor from the Irish Cancer Society underlined how medical professionals and scientists had “absolutely and categorically disproven” any association between the MMR vaccine and autism. He added that the recent drop in vaccination rates was leading to outbreaks of measles around the world, including in Romania which has reported more than 4,000 cases of the disease and 18 related deaths in the past six months.

“When individuals chose not to vaccinate their children they have on impact on the rest of the community. Vaccinations are a vital part of our basic primary healthcare and prevent us from getting diseases that lead to injury and death. They are proven, simple and safe ways to prevent illness.”

Last month, Minister for Health Simon Harris urged doctors at the Irish Medical Organisation’s annual conference to “come out fighting” against anti-vaccine groups by providing accurate information about the benefits of vaccination.

HPV vaccination rates among teenage girls have dropped from 87 per cent to 50 per cent due to opposition from a campaign group that has linked the Gardasil vaccine to health hazards. But research has not established a link between the vaccine and alleged side-effects.

Mr Harris said he took his medical advice on vaccinations from his chief medical officer, the European Medicines Agency and the World Health Organisation – “not from random social media accounts”.

“If you want to give medical advice on vaccinations, become a doctor. If not, get out of the way and stay away from our public health policy.”